University student debts handed over


Cash-strapped institutions have to suspend infrastructure development.

Students failing to pay historical debts amounting to hundreds of millions of rands to local universities have been handed over to attorneys for collections as nonpayment was impacting on the cash flow of these institutions, The Citizen has been told.

North-West University, which was hit by protests for a month in February, resulting in the shutting down of the Mafikeng campus, said it was carrying a historical debt of R93.3 million – accrued from December 31, 2015 and still outstanding on May 31.

“Most of the students who have historic debts have been handed over to one of our panels of attorneys for collection,” said university spokesperson Willie du Plessis.

“There is, however, still a small number of students with historic debt, who either made a payment arrangement with the collection department, or their fees must still be settled by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).”

This comes after the #FeesMustFall movement, which started late last year and resulted in students protesting the fees hike. Others took to the streets because they could not register due to outstanding fees.

Apparently buckling under the protest pressure, President Jacob Zuma announced that there would be no fee hike in the 2016 academic year. This move by the president pleased students, but did not stop the fees protests across South African universities.

Meanwhile, the University of Cape Town said it was carrying R22.2 million in historical debt, excluding this year’s outstanding fees. It said it was working with students and students’ representative councils to raise funds in an effort to assist students with the debt.

The university’s spokesperson, Elijah Moholola, said that although there were no major financial impacts at the moment, over time outstanding debt would have an impact on the long-term financial sustainability of the university.

University of the Witwatersrand spokesperson Shirona Patel said the institution had been forced to suspend some of its infrastructure development and review its budgets to accommodate the debt in the short-term.

Patel said the university was sitting with R87 million worth of historical debt, which had accrued between from December 31, 2015 and May 31, 2016.

Earlier this year, Nsfas allocated R2.5 billion to erase debt for poor South African students who qualified for funding and had studied between 2013 and 2015.

Universities have said that the qualifications of students with outstanding fees would be held back.